The word on the street — actually, on social media — is that Mike Tyson may get in the ring with Evander Holyfield for the third time. Right now, Holyfield’s ears are safe, but there’s money to be made, and if there was ever a pair of heavyweights who needed a lucrative second career, it’s the two former champions.
Not to be outdone, Oscar De La Hoya says he plans to fight again at the age of 48, too. Apparently, De La Hoya has forgotten the terrible beating Manny Pacquiao gave him in his last real fight 13 years ago and plans to enter the ring July 3 against an opponent to be named later.
Or maybe he won’t. De La Hoya, you might recall, also said he was running for president a few years back, and his name never appeared on a ballot. He’s also a boxing promoter now, and anything an advocate says is automatically suspect. Whatever. I’m not so sure people will line up to buy De La Hoya against anyone, though predicting what fans are willing to spend money for a pay-per-view is an inexact art, at best.
No, boxing isn’t dead, far from it.
It’s just become a sport for the geriatric and anyone with a few million followers on social media who can throw a punch. Consider this: The biggest PPV set for April features a YouTube celebrity (Jake Paul) against a former MMA fighter in the main event. Other fights on the card involve long-retired light heavyweight Antonio Tarver and veteran MMA heavyweight Frank Mir. At the same time, a Colombian musician, Reykon, takes on Joe Fournier, a British boxer who briefly fought for money but hasn’t had a fight in five years.
It may enrage boxing purists, but there’s money to be made, as the company that brought you Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. showed with a surprisingly successful November pay-per-view that reportedly grossed more than $80 million. With Snoop Dog and entertainers like Justin Bieber, The Black Keys, and others, there’s also a ton of entertainment value for the $49.99 it will cost at home.
Compare that to a real fight that is basically three hours of a lousy undercard and long periods of inactivity with a big battle at the end, and it’s no contest. The exact price will buy you a real heavyweight fight two weeks later, but only devoted fans would think of spending it to watch Andy Ruiz Jr. and Chris Arreola mix it up with little at stake except for their records. That’s just one example of how boxing has only itself to blame for becoming a primary niche sport. Promoters for decades have taken fan money for fights that don’t deliver — and never tried to move from the original model of one big battle for one high price.
When the biggest fights did happen, they were often years too late, like Tyson and Lennox Lewis and the bout between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. that should have been made five years earlier. The prices fans paid also kept trending up to the magical $99.95 price point for Mayweather-Pacquiao. A new outfit called Triller went about things differently in its debut telecast of Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. Snoop was one of the hosts, and there was plenty of entertainment and production values at a top-level. The company claimed the telecast was in the top 10 for all pay-per-views, and it’s easy to see why. There was intrigue and entertainment for all age groups in a hybrid boxing/entertainment play that delivered even more than it promised.
The only question is why it took so long to figure it out.
The best thing about Triller’s success is that it serves as a role model that might translate into more opportunities for top fighters to make money. That includes fighters like lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez, who hasn’t proven he can sell on his own but wants to fight only on pay-per-view going forward.
Still, it feels gimmicky and unsustainable. There are only so many YouTubers willing to risk their lives in the ring, and only a handful of aging fighters anyone will pay money to watch.
That’s not to say there isn’t value in watching Holyfield and Tyson go at it again, assuming they quit debating a fight and finally get together nearly a quarter-century after they last fought. Any dispute would be a glorified exhibition like Tyson-Jones, but they have a history many people remember.
And they also understand they are risking more than their egos by fighting again, even if the gloves are padded and the punches aren’t what they once were. Both have taken a lot of points over the years, but to take them at an advanced age carries even more of a risk.
My guess is the fight never happens, which might be good for Tyson. Holyfield stopped him the first time they met in 1996 and was on his way to doing it again when Tyson bit off part of his left ear. He had Tyson’s number then, and nothing has changed since except that memories have faded about just what happened between the two men. Still, add Snoop Dog and a few YouTubers to the mix, and $49.99 doesn’t seem like too high a price to take a stroll down memory lane.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press.
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